Monday, July 25, 2005

My Groove Is Fully Intact, Mr. Kissoon

Mr. Kissoon, This Letter is About You

I did not want you to fret about my groove, so I felt obliged to let you know that it is still fully intact. Also, there are some other pesky little issues we need to clear up as well.

Firstly, allow me to dispense with the formalities of manners. I want to offer my condolences to you, dear Mr. Kissoon. You mentioned that dabbling in Guyanese politics might cause one to lose their marbles – and it is more than obvious from your response to my letter that you have been dabbling for quite some time since yours appear to be all but gone as well. Again, my condolences to you and yours.

That said; I would like to point out the obvious. You went on and on in your response to my letter about how I took shots at you and Kaieteur News. However, if you read my letter closely, you will find I never once mentioned either of the two. I never even hinted or provide any promising inclinations that would allow you to come to such a conclusion.

I’m not sure if you are just a bit jumpy, what with all the suits flying around, or if you are also plagued with bouts of narcissism that causes you think everything is about you. Either way, your conclusion to my letter is still wrong.

In fact, the primary point was to express my extreme dismay of a newspaper being sued by a president. I am a firm believer in the freedom of the press and would fight tooth and nail to ensure its continued independence from government interference. I honestly had no thoughts of any suit concerning you or Kaieteur News. In fact, I thought as journalists you and your co-workers would appreciate my stance on the freedom of the press.

As a side, and because the subject warranted explanation, I addressed Mr. Ram’s freedom of expression and his letter. I do believe in his right to free expression and said as much. What I did not say was that he “has a greater right to his opinion” than you – which you accused me of doing in your column.

In fact, your name was never mentioned once in my letter because I did not place any connection between the President’s suit against SN and Mr. Ram’s suit against you. I was solely on a tirade about his Excellency’s slight to democracy and you just didn’t play a part in that.

I hope I haven’t disappointed you too much. Although my first letter had nothing whatsoever to do with you, this one is all about you. That should make you happy. I really did appreciate the song - you are so very sweet. And the movie review was simply riveting. If nothing else, your column was entertaining.

Just for fun, and to show you that I bear not ill will, I even considered some word play by injecting clever little comments about Freddie Kruger and how I could be your nightmare on Elm Street. However, I’m just not that witty and I figured with all your marbles gone you might think I was being mean to you again.

It is easy to see how someone as sensitive as you would not do well in politics. It really does take a thick skin to deal with all of those brass politicians. You seem to be more of a poet type who enjoys a good song and a steamy movie. However, as you pointed out, I personally find my groove in politics.

While I appreciate your advice to steer clear of the nastiness of Guyanese politics, I must confess that I’m having way too much fun with all the merriment of the songs, soldering and sarcasm to stop now – not to mention my cheeky little tendency for doing the exact opposite of what I am told.

Your concern for me is touching, but my groove is still fully intact and I think it is high time a woman tossed in her two cents about the state of Guyana. Perhaps a womanly touch, especially a woman with a groove, can help everyone else find their marbles – even you, Dear Mr. Kissoon.

- Stella Ramsaroop

Sunday, July 24, 2005

How the Guyanese Stella lost her groove - Freddie Kissoon

Here's Freddie Kissoon's response to my letter concerning the suit by the President against Stabroek News and Christopher Ram.

The Trinidadian Stella may have been the most pretensive of the three Stellas, though not a bit the least interesting comparatively.

The Mighty Duke sang the story of the Trinidadian Stella. But I found the version of the Jamaican group, the Starlites, more hilarious.

While the Mighty Duke tried to soften up the image of the Trinidadian Stella, it is the reggae interpretation that needs highlighting too. Here are some of the lyrics of the Jamaican depiction of the Trinidadian Stella. The song is called “Soldering.” You will see how soldering drove the Trinidadian Stella to be unfair to her old man:

She say she don't want no young man Cause young man drink too much white rum

She say she don't want no soul man

Cause soul man fast asleep in bed

She say she don't want no dreadlocks

Cause dreadlocks smoke too much Irie

Soldering is wuh de young girl want

When ah check it out, de young back on the scene

When ah check it out, the soul man in de groove

While de old man he watching de move

Soldering is wuh de young girl want

It was because of her love for soldering that the Trinidadian Stella left her old man. But what a duplicitous woman she was. According to the Mighty Duke, Stella told her aging lover that she was going to a wedding, when he saw her all dressed up. The poor geriatric didn't believe her because he suspected that Stella was only interested in soldering.

He followed her and saw her and her young lover about to be pronounced as man and wife in front of a priest. The poor, old romantic threw himself in front of Stella and poured out his soul to Stella, telling the priest Stella is the only woman he loved.

Stella then held her old guy, wrapped him round her arms, and walked out of the church with him, leaving a stunned young boyfriend wondering why Stella turned her back on soldering.

Further North, in the United States , the America Stella went on a Prozac binge because she lost her grooves and wanted them back desperately. The vivacious American Stella went to Jamaica . She picked up a young Kingston youth, twenty years her junior. He gave the American Stella a bucket load of soldering.

The American Stella got her groove back, married her young Jamaican athlete and took him to the US for soldering. She made bucket loads of money by writing her story with her little boy entitled “How Stella got her groove back.” She made more dollars when she sold the movie rights and it was brilliantly played by the subtly, deeply talented Angela Bassett.

Then the American Stella lost her groove again. Four months ago, Stella found out that her junior husband was as vivacious as her and wanted to have soldering just like her. She has sued for a divorce citing his homosexual proclivities which he admitted to in court documents.

But her AC/DC husband is fighting to have a share of the wealth of the American Stella because he (or is it she?) claimed that Stella made a fortune out of their life story.

People, he claimed, would not have bought her books like the top seller, “Waiting to Exhale” if it weren't for the profile she got out of their internationally known romance.

The Guyanese Stella, unlike her Trinidadian and American counterparts, has an interest in politics. But in the process of dabbling in Guyanese politics, she lost her groove. In Guyanese politics, you can also lose your marbles.

Guyanese politics is not for the faint hearted. Even a strong character like Burnham succumbed to a psychotic breakdown. If Burnham could lose his marbles, then anyone else could.

I hope the Guyanese Stella knows that it may be impossible to get her groove back. The American Stella is still looking. Someone said that Guyana is on her watch list. Given the number of young men in Guyana who desire an American visa, the America Stella will certainly get her groove back.

The Trinidadian Stella is in her eighties now. Can the Guyanese Stella get her groove back?

Last week the Guyanese Stella took a dig at me and the Kaieteur News. She wrote a letter in the Kaieteur News and the Stabroek News in which she showed torrid displeasure at the President's libel suit against Christopher Ram.

Let's quote the Guyanese Stella who resents what she refers to as the President's attempt to muzzle Ram. She writes; “The President is suing a newspaper for printing a letter to the editor. My mouth is still wide open in sheer astonishment.”

I hope the Guyanese Stella closes her mouth soon because if she doesn't, she may swallow the marbles she lost. This would be serious because how then can she breathe? The Guyanese Stella is certainly an infatuated person as her Trinidadian and American versions. She doesn't want the President to litigate against Mr. Ram because at one point in her letter, she gets very trenchant in her criticism when she remarks that “Mr. Ram has a right to his opinion…whether this opinion is valid is for the readers to decide.”

Poor Stella from Guyana . At a Freudian level, she obviously believes Mr. Christopher Ram is a superior person to me. Well, I don't mind that. Shall I lose sleepless nights because the Guyanese Stella thinks that Mr. Ram has a greater right to his opinion than I do?

It is alright for Mr. Ram to have free access to his opinion but not me. At one point in her letter, she also shows vexation that the President sued the Stabroek News too. Mr. Ram did not only sue me but also the Kaieteur News. The paper and I will vigorously defend ourselves. We believe we are entitled to publish views that are matter of public importance.

I am going to end with some stories about the right to one's opinion and the importance of the Kaieteur News to freedom in Guyana for your benefit, Stella. When I was a columnist with the Stabroek News, Dr. Hughley Hanoman sued me and the paper. Mr. David De Caires called me to his office and informed me that co-founder of the Stabroek News and its attorney, Mr. Miles Fitzpatrick, will not defend me and that I will have to get my own lawyer, something unthinkable in the newspaper business.

Mr. Khemraj Ramjattan came to my rescue. Co-founder, Mr. Fitzpatrick stopped me from being a columnist with his paper and the paper published an editorial note in which Mr. Fitzpatrick advised its then senior reporter, Ms. Gitanjali Singh, to report me to the police over a disagreement on my dismissal from UG.

I never threatened Ms. Singh but Mr. Fitzpatrick didn't ask me if I did. Then, days later another editorial note appeared. Written by David De Caires, it supported my unjust and illegal dismissal from UG.

My dear Stella, how about that for the right to express one's opinion? There was a time, my dear Stella, when people lined up at the Stabroek News to beg to have their views published. Many were denied.

Now there is the Kaieteur News which carried your letter, Stella. Dr. Anand Daljeet had a letter on UG's Vice-Chancellor, James Rose, rejected by the Stabroek News last week, but he wasn't bothered – Kaieteur News printed it in full.

The Kaieteur News and I are defending our libel suit that Mr. Ram brought against us Stella. In the meantime, I hope you get your groove back.
Read My Response

Friday, July 22, 2005

Stella Ramsaroop's fears are seriously misplaced - Robert Persaud

Here's Robert Persuad's well written response to my letter regarding the President's suit against Stabroek News and Christopher Ram.

Stella Ramsaroop’s fears are seriously misplaced

Dear Editor,

I have read a letter by one Stella Ramsaroop in the daily edition of the Kaieteur News (20-07-05) and the Stabroek News (21-07-05).

The writer’s fears are noted but seriously misplaced and it is because of this that I feel compelled to respond to her.

The constitution is quoted and relevant articles mentioned. Unfortunately though, the letter writer obviously failed to read those articles and the other articles relevant thereto in their entirety. Article 40 (2) of the Constitution clearly provides that “the fundamental rights provisions shall effect for the purpose of affording protection of the fundamental rights and freedoms of the individual subject to such limitations of that protection as are contained in those provisions, being any individual does not prejudice the rights and freedom of others or the public interest: Article 146 clearly states that a person shall not be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression … but that nothing contained in any law shall not be held to be inconsistent with or in contravention of Article 146 to the extent that the said law makes provision for the purpose of protecting …, the rights and freedoms of other persons.

I would be the first to agree with Ms. Ramsaroop that freedom of expression is an essential freedom in any democratic society. One would recall that it was the PPP/Civic Government, which the President currently heads, that restored this freedom which is relied upon these days as if it were always a part of our culture. The President has always and will always continue to defend and champion the citizen’s freedom and rights of expression, as His Excellency recognises that a society in which the said freedom is denied is a society doomed to intellectual paralysis. It is because of the writer’s freedom of expression which is now guaranteed to her that she is able to enjoy the freedom to offer her opinion publicly, however misguided that opinion may be.

We must not, however, confuse democracy with lawlessness. With every freedom comes a corresponding responsibility which must be treated with as much importance as the very freedom itself.

Mr. Ram’s and the Stabroek News’ right and freedom to print and publish must not prejudice the rights and freedoms of others or the public interest. The writer herself recognises that in the Declaration of Chapultepec, it is stated that “no news medium or journalist may be punished for publishing the truth or criticising or denouncing the government”. TRUTH is the operative word. Truth is not a relative term. Mr. Ram did not take the time to determine if what he was saying was the truth or perhaps he did and carelessly, without regard for anyone’s reputation, went ahead and spouted his libel.

The Government welcomes healthy criticism and where such criticism is constructive, always seeks to effectively interpret same to benefit Guyana and her people. One must not, however, under the cover of offering an opinion in our free society, maliciously print and publish that which is wholly untrue and cannot be substantiated.

Moreover, it is dangerous and a bad example to allow a minority in our society with their own narrow agenda to blatantly issue libelous statements against members of the administration. The constitutional right to freedom of expression, which is spoken about, does not allow the printing of a false and malicious statement which is likely to undermine public confidence in the conduct of public affairs. So said the Court in the 1990 case of Hector v. Attorney General of Antigua. In our own local Courts in Jagan v. Burnham, the Court was specific that freedom of expression does not include the right to libel or defame a man’s reputation or his office/ businesses. (Many Courts both locally and internationally have so determined).

Critique is one thing. Blatant misrepresentations which are entirely fallacious are another. It would have been remiss of His Excellency, the President, not to have stood up against the series of blatant injustices committed against him, as a citizen or our dear land, by Christopher Ram and the Stabroek News. And this is not the only instance where the President, his Government and his Party have been subjected to this type of malicious reporting. There are strong reasons to believe that the consistency and frequency of attacks and misrepresentation from certain quarters represent an organised campaign and not errors of judgement or instances of poor journalism.

I challenge the writer to tell us which democratic Court has “tossed out” suits which are clearly libelous. I would, however, wish to encourage the writer to continue to enjoy the freedoms guaranteed to her with due regard for the freedoms guaranteed to her fellow citizens.

I am constrained by the on-going legal proceedings on the issues raised. But there is much more I would have wished to cite so that the letter writer appreciate the pattern of libel and distortions targeted against the Government by some sections of the media. I invite Ms. Ramsaroop to contact my office and I will present her with a dossier of libelous and malicious reports, many of which have been ignored, so she can appreciate the gravity of the situation.

Perhaps, this legal action can help stop the hypocrisy of political agitators who masquerade as media operatives and do great harm to the journalistic profession.

All for your information.
Robert Persaud
Information Liaison to the President

Friday, July 15, 2005

A President should expect critique from those who elected him

I was absolutely flabbergasted when I heard about the suit filed against SN by the President, so much so that I thought my husband was just joking around when he relayed the news.

Imagine how much more surprised I was to learn it was true.

How appalling! The President is indeed suing a newspaper for printing a letter to the editor. My mouth is still wide open in sheer astonishment. Therefore, I decided to sit down and go over a few little known facts to educate the president on what constitutes libel in most democratic countries.

To maintain an open government system, it is imperative to encourage the free expressions of the people, as well any medium used to articulate such expressions.

This is even more important when it comes to public figures. A public figure is someone who is elected to public office to serve the people.

When you work for someone, as government officials work for the people, you can and should expect critique. Knowing your employer will scrutinize your work ensures the proficient completion of the task at hand.

Therefore, a president should expect critique from those who elected him.

Traditionally, democratic courts around the world have tossed out any such suits by public officials since they are subject to public scrutiny by choice.

When one runs for office in a free country, public scrutiny should be expected. In other words, people like Mr. Ram, who is a citizen offering his opinion on what he feels are constitutional violations, is expected to do exactly that in order to maintain democracy.

Whether this opinion is valid is for the readers to decide. Mr. Ram simply presented certain parts of the constitution and his interpretation of what he felt were violations.

Notice I'm using words like “opinion” and “interpretation.” Such language is also weighed heavily in libel suits. This was a letter to the editor, not a journalist's article, which is usually taken at face value.

Any rational person knows they are reading an opinion and that it should be weighed as such. It is simply preposterous to have a president sue a newspaper for publishing a letter to the editor that criticizes his actions while in office.

It goes against the very nature of democracy. Democracy demands that the press be able to operate openly and freely without censorship or interference by the government.

Imagine if George Bush started suing people for criticizing him in such a way. American courts wouldn't be able to handle so many cases – and much worse has been said about him. Daily people call him a murderer and say he is trading blood for oil.

Surely, one must have a thick skin when seeking public office, but that does not negate the public's right to express their opinion.

In other words, Mr. President, if you don't want to be criticized – don't run for office!

Mr. Ram has a right to his opinion. This is what Guyana's Constitution says, “No person shall be hindered in the enjoyment of his freedom of expression, that is to say, freedom to hold opinions without interference, freedom to receive ideas and information without interference, freedom to communicate ideas and information without interference and freedom from interference with his correspondence.”

So important is the freedom of expression and freedom of press, that the same President who is now suing a newspaper for libel signed a declaration acknowledging this fact.

In May of 2002, President Jagdeo joined several other countries in signing the Declaration of Chapultepec, a free press manifesto that explicitly says, “No people or society can be without freedom of expression and of the press. It is an inalienable right.”

At least 29 of the 35 nations in this hemisphere have signed the declaration.
The declaration also says, “No news medium or journalist may be punished for publishing the truth or criticizing or denouncing the government.”

How ironic that the president is doing the very thing he declared he would not do. He is punishing a newspaper for publishing an article that denounces his actions as president.

Hypocrisy in the government? I'm aghast!

When a president starts suing newspapers, this is simply the utmost disgrace to the nation. It sends a chilling statement to everyone in the country to keep your mouth shut concerning your president and government.

If the president wants to respond to the critical opinions of those who put him in office, he could always have an article printed in his government run newspaper.

That would be far better than to bring the democratic system to the crux of collapse simply because his feelings got hurt.

Grow up, Mr. President. These types of games are not funny; they are dangerous to the very foundation of our society.

- Stella Ramsaroop

Read Robert Persaud's Response

Thursday, July 14, 2005

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